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At Brooklyn Bridge Park, lots of fits, but few starts • Brooklyn Paper

At Brooklyn Bridge Park, lots of fits, but few starts

Brooklyn’s new front stoop? Granite recovered from other city construction sites form a one-story-high set of stairs right up against the East River, providing a stoop-like gathering point. Hopefully, stoop-drinking tickets won’t be issued.
The Brooklyn Paper / Bess Adler

Why not blame New Jersey for the Brooklyn Bridge Park saga that’s engulfed Brooklyn’s waterfront neighborhoods for the better part of three decades? After all, it was cheap land in Elizabeth and Newark that tempted the container shipping industry to drift across the harbor after World War II, causing the slow disintegration of piers and warehouses from DUMBO to Red Hook.

The 1.3-mile-long, 85-acre park is scheduled to be completed in 2012, according to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation, the state agency overseeing it. Roughly 8.2 acres will be occupied by a hotel and condo units that officials say will generate enough revenue to cover $15.2-million annual operations and maintenance costs. (They’re both on hold, of course, pending an upturn in the economy.)

The idea for a park from Old Fulton Street to Atlantic Avenue has been talked about since the early 1980s, and it was included in a waterfront development study by the Department of City Planning in 1990.

By 1994, 13 guiding principles were established for park development. One such principle? “The site shall have only so much commercial development in a park-like setting as is necessary to enliven the area, to provide security and to finance ongoing operations.”

By the late 1990s, developer David Walentas already had projects underway to overhaul DUMBO and he put forward a waterfront redevelopment plan that some worried would compete with the proposed park. That $300-million proposal included a multiplex theater, retail space and a hotel designed by architect Jean Nouvel. Public disapproval killed that plan.

A waterfront park, with or without retail, didn’t sit well in Brooklyn Heights. Many worried a new park would attract traffic, litter and crime, a position that park backers said smacked of (at best) elitism. As the New York Times put it, “Park boosters do not understand how people could oppose building a park on a fallow strip of land with such extraordinary views, especially when the alternative could be luxury housing or a mall.”

Brooklynites ended up with both, thanks to a state takeover of the project.

By 2001, the $150-million park plan had commitments of $65 million from the city, and $87 million from the state. Of course, the final pricetag has ballooned to more than $350 million, making it unlikely that the entire park will get built any time soon, but passive recreation areas at the foot of Old Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue are slated to open by the end of this year or in January, 2010.

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